Austin teen lobbying for dyslexia support in schools nationwide

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local teenager wants more support for students with learning disabilities, specifically those struggling with dyslexia. In kindergarten, Ben Cooper was struggling with reading. His mother Robbi, the school wanted to hold him back for a year, saying he just needed more time. She decided to have him privately tested, and they learned Ben had fairly severe learning disabilities in reading.

Ben has been lobbying for HR 456 in Washington for the past year, a house resolution on dyslexia which now has more than 111 sponsors. Roughly 1 in 5 people have the disorder, and many go undiagnosed.

“My goal is to see that every kid with learning disabilities is recognized,” said Ben.

In July, Ben Cooper shared his story with the State Board of Education.

“It’s hard when a teacher tells you you’re not going to make it,” he told board members.

You wouldn’t know it, but at one point, Ben didn’t think he’d make it through elementary school.

“People kept telling me I wasn’t going to get anywhere in my life,” said Ben, “and that I wasn’t going to make it college.”

“When you are new parents like we were, we had nothing to gauge what he really should be doing,” said Robbi.

Ben and Robbi are advocating for more funding for teacher training and for more awareness. They want schools to start diagnosing children at an earlier age, so they don’t fall under the radar.

“Biggest problem is families are not having children identified,” said Robbi, “and without identifying the problem, root cause of reading and academic failure, kids are just starting to be labeled as slower learners, not as intelligent as others.”

With assistive tools like Bookshare, and a lot of hard work, Ben says he now loves reading.

Officials with Austin ISD say within the last year they’ve been working to diagnose children earlier.

“Last year we tested almost 1,000 kids for dyslexia and over 90 percent of referrals did end up with dyslexia, so we’re doing a much better job of screening,” said Rachel Robillard, Administrative Supervisor for 504 Services for AISD. “We have somewhere around 3,000 students in AISD with dyslexia at this time and getting referrals on a daily basis.”

Ben’s message has gone beyond Central Texas, all the way to the United States Capitol in Washington. His mother met with Congressman Lamar Smith, a co-sponsor on a bill to encourage dyslexic recognition early.
Two weeks ago, Smith held a hearing about dyslexia in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, where he focused on the potential of dyslexic students. He mentioned innovators like Albert Einstein, Leonardo DaVinci, and Stephen Spielberg all likely had dyslexia.

Rep. Lamar Smith said, “For most people, dyslexia is a disability. But if we change the way we approach it we can turn disability into possibility,and give millions of individuals a brighter and more productive future.”

If your child is in kindergarten or first grade and is struggling with reading, you can request testing for dyslexia. There are also support groups in Austin where parents can get help and information.

For more on this story, tune in to KXAN News at 6. 

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